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Anger, Resignations in Highland Park, Mich., After Black History Collection is Discarded

After a community historian and other community members stumbled upon approximately 1,000 books and artifacts related to African-American history being discarded in a dumpster several weeks ago in a Detroit-area school district, the anger and fallout has led to furious protests and now the resignation of a school board member.

Andre’ Davis, vice president and secretary of the Highland Park Renaissance Academy System school board, handed over his letter of resignation while about 50 protestors chanted outside the city’s high school in reaction to the discovery of the discarded items.

Highland Park resident Paul Lee, a historian who helped build the collection, and other volunteers recovered around 1,000 pieces from dumpsters outside the local high school. Lee told the Detroit Free Press that the 10,000-piece collection of black history books, movies, videos and other artifacts rivaled a community college library.

Although Highland Park’s emergency manager Donald Weatherspoon told angry residents the collection was thrown out by mistake, he also said that the district could not afford to house such a collection.

Weatherspoon, who succeeded the previous emergency manager Joyce A. Parker, last October told The Huffington Post that the materials were accidentally discarded when work crews were moving them from public spaces to a room where they would be locked away. But Weatherspoon said he doesn’t believe any materials are still missing.

“My goal was to place everything in a secure environment which is what we’re doing now. Until someone says specifically what’s missing I don’t know what they’re talking about,” Weatherspoon said.

Highland Park’s school district has been under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager since January 2012, when a financial review team concluded that the district was in a state of financial crisis. The town, which is located inside the city of Detroit and has a population of 16,700 residents, is about 93.4 percent African-American according to the school district.

Davis, who was appointed about a year ago by the former emergency manager Parker, said he’s stepping down because he disagrees with how Weatherspoon is running the district.

“She understood she had to balance the books somehow, but she wasn’t interested in destroying our community,” Davis said, comparing Parker to Weatherspoon. “To say he’s not in the business of storing books and libraries, isn’t that what education is supposed to be about — books and knowledge?”

The historian, Paul Lee, who helped order some of the discarded documents in the 1990s, said of Weatherspoon during a local TV interview, “It breaks my heart that our children and grandchildren may not be as lucky because of a decision and the incompetence of one man who is imposed upon us by the state.”

The woman behind the protest, Linda Wheeler, 39, chairwoman of Citizens for Highland Park Public Schools, said she organized the protest to demand Gov. Rick Snyder replace the collection for the schools’ students.

“It hurts — it’s painful,” said Wheeler, a former special education teacher for the district who was laid off this spring. “Children need books to learn. Every child needs books to learn about their history. We want our library restored.”

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